Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sunday Brunch at Food Exchange @ Novotel Manila

With only a vague impression from the sparsely available reviews on the internet, I and my classmates tried out the relatively new Food Exchange Sunday Brunch of Novotel Manila last May 1, 2016.

From first impressions, the lobby and receiving areas of the hotel were bright, modern and contemporary.  

The dining area of the Food Exchange was decorated with colorful and vibrant local themed murals.  You will appreciate that the tables are spaced well apart providing some semblance of privacy.  The ambiance definitely suggests a good venue for get-togethers.

I usually make a beeline for the Chinese and Japanese stations, my all time favorite cuisines.  Their Japanese station did not offer tempura but the quality of the other items made up for it.  The tuna sashimi and Tobiko (roe) sushi were the clear standouts for me. I also liked that the sashimi were sliced to order.

I also enjoyed the cold and salad station which was surprisingly well stocked. I enjoyed the smoked salmon and shrimp cocktail.  Unlike the boiled shrimp in other buffets, Food Exchange’s shrimp cocktail were umami, juicy and plump.  It was a healthier substitute for deep fried tempura.

I tried a couple of the thin crust pizza, a pepperoni and a mushroom.  Both were okay.  Not fantastic but not bad either.  The Italian station was also a bit average.  Black pasta cooked in sage butter sauce was suggested but it tasted quite pedestrian.  The steak was too well done and tough.  When the steak got refilled, it turned out to be too rare for my taste.  Only the baked Sea Bream made me go back for seconds.  The baked fish was juicy and paired beautifully with the white sauce.  The paella and meat loaf were also tasty but the red lighting was a turn off.  It was reminiscent of red lighting used by wet market vendors to mask the real quality of meat.  Good food when made fresh and prepared with care can stand on its own. 

The grill station offered prawns, oysters, clams, a fish fillet (forgot the variant) and pork chops to be grilled, boiled, baked with cheese and fried in butter.  I was hoping for stir fried with tausi or white wine reduction as both are good for clams but only the four abovementioned cooking options were offered.  We tried the grilled prawns and oyster baked with cheese.  Both were okay.  A classmate tried the grilled pork chop but the thin slices made the meat shrink significantly, looking quite anemic.  Another classmate tried the grilled fish and swore that it was really good.

The other reviews left good memories of the Indian station. I am impartial to Indian cuisine.  I like my curries spicy and enjoy the fragrant spices used.  However, Indian cuisine is not my favorite and my exposure to it is limited.  Nevertheless, I munch on with my fork and an open mind.  The grilled prawn was quite good, along with the fish biryani.  The biryani was fluffy and aromatic, clearly a standout.  Previous reviews quipped that the resident Indian chef was a plus factor.  I begged to differ.  I am not sure if it’s because of the language barrier but the Indian chef could have made a greater impact.  When your station is virtually deserted and you see two confused looking dudes looking at your spread, the chef could have done more than just give out a sauce dish because we were looking at the mango chutney.  I’m sure the Indian station had a lot more exciting offerings but there is only so much you can do by blindly experimenting on your own.

The Chinese station was disappointing.  Roast duck was chewy.  The spicy fish fillet was swimming in oil and tasted bland.  I asked if dimsum was available but apparently only siopao was available.  By that time, I’ve already lost interest in that station.  The Chinese station could have disappeared and no one would have noticed.  I would say the same for the ketchup and sauces section.  Sure, it’s a novel idea but there isn’t much food to be dipped in ketchup to begin with.  I tried the ketchup, the roasted pepper and thai chili sauce for the sake of trying.  All three were mediocre, not deserving of an entire station.            

There are other prepared dishes such as Osso bucco, pepper beef, stir fried seafood, rosemary chicken and etc.  It was a mixture of good and average.  No clear standouts.  There was a also a cheese and cured meat chiller but some of the meat was already starting to have freezer burn.

Dessert is where the buffet shined.  They didn’t have a magnificently arranged dessert spread (chocolate fondue machine was displayed but not working) but it was finely curated.  The list is quite extensive and very varied. They had a halo halo station, crepe station, local kakanins, fresh fruit, prepared cakes and pies and ice cream.  I immensely enjoyed their Capuccino ice cream and Calamansi sorbet.  There was even Guyabano sorbet, but alas I was too full to try.  The dessert station was wonderful in the sense that there is always something new to try and didn’t disappoint each time.  I’m not even a dessert person but Food Exchange’s dessert selection was delightful.

Food Exchange did not have an extensive beverage spread but I liked that it was part of the buffet and the selection of iced teas and juices was appropriate.  I also appreciate that they had a selection of coffee (cappuccino and latte) and teas (Bavarian mint, green, chamomile and earl grey. 

Service was another area where Food Exchange stood out.  Service was friendly, cheerful and attentive.  When I stood up to get more food, my used plates magically disappeared.  Not only that, service was smart enough to leave the sauce dish and chopsticks behind.  Don’t you hate it when you stand up to get more sushi, only to find out that they already taken away your sauce dish. 

Overall, Sunday brunch at the Food Exchange was good.  The buffet had its strong and weak points.  It has all the essential ingredients to be great but lacks the execution to lift it to the next level.  I hope that the spread can live up to its classy ambiance and superior service.